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signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'ATUL DODIYA 'FATHER' 122 CM x 183 CM OiL 1989 Atul' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 72 1/8 in. (122 x 183.3 cm.)
Painted in 1989
Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Mumbai, Gallery Chemould, September 1989
Special notice
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Lot Essay

Regarded as one of the leading artists of his generation, Atul Dodiya is widely recognised as a figurehead in South Asian contemporary art influencing many of the country's burgeoning younger artists.

Father is from Dodiya's first solo exhibition held in 1989 and is an excellent example of the photorealist style which defined his oeuvre in the 1980s and first brought him critical acclaim. Incorporating wit and humour with a straightforward and cleverly deadpan realist style, Dodiya enjoys creating a sense of mystery in this work where he encourages the viewer to experience and ponder over the narrative presented.

Q: Where does this work fit in your journey as an artist?
AD: From '87 onwards I started working on a certain kind of naturalism, which included family portraits, friends and neighbours located in specific interiors/exteriors. The major concern for me was how to depict solitude and silence and how to convey a particular mood - a sober mood or simply passing time. I often painted a figure standing in a doorway or looking out of the window or sometimes, just an empty room. This particular painting is important because it's a portrait of my father. I have often painted my father and this one is from my first solo show which took place in 1989. Here he appeared for the first time in a very direct way.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your relationship with your father? Was he supportive of you becoming an artist in the eighties?
AD: My father was my best friend. I shared many things with him - about my paintings, happenings in the art world and why I do a certain kind of work. He was extremely curious about my practice and wanted to know how I see things. When the time came to go to college, despite what everyone else said, he was the one who had total faith in me. In fact, during my initial days, I was fully supported (financially) by him. My father had a great sense of humour and his personality was such (he had a strong physical presence), that often I felt like painting him. Professionally he was a building contractor. The interaction with industrial and hardware material which we see in my oeuvre comes from my early memories as I went with him to the construction sites. In this painting we see the wooden door with a large hinge on one side of a painting and on other side, a reverse of a canvas and its wooden stretcher. These material aspects of an object keep coming into my paintings till today including the metal roller shutters which I often paint on.

Q: This painting comes across as very intimate and personal. Yet, your paintings of the time employed humour and irony with you almost teasing the viewer. Isn't this a little more of a serious subject?
AD: This is also partly a portrait of a viewer. Isn't it? The viewer is generally outside the canvas but here you see a viewer as a subject of a painting! The grammar of painting is often a content of my work. A man sitting in an armchair looking at a painting - that is what we see on the canvas. Then there is another viewer outside the painting, looking at this painting by a viewer makes a kind of abstract mirror game. We know as a viewer what we are looking at, but we don't know what the man sitting in an armchair is looking at. We only see the back of the painted canvas. I am reminded of a famous quotation by the great French master Henri Matisse, who said "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue." But, let me add, I like to puzzle my viewer, I like to tease and I enjoy playing a psychological game making him or her a bit uncomfortable while experiencing a painting.

Q: Did you ever imagine or think of what he was looking at? Can you give us a hint or is that left up to our imagination?
AD: No, I don't know what he is looking at. My concern is what we are looking at. The drips of paint on the edge of the canvas suggests there is something colourful.

Q: Were there any major influences at the time this series was made?
AD: There were two influences simultaneously, which were both different in nature. One was the British painter David Hockney and the second, an artist from an earlier generation - American master Edward Hopper. What I liked about Hockney was his humour and wit, and what I liked about Hopper was his depiction of solitude and the melancholic tone that generated much deeper stories in his paintings. In this particular series from '88-'89, you don't see a direct influence, but I'd definitely consider Edward Hopper as a source of inspiration.

Q: As far as the series goes, and your first solo exhibition, what were you thinking at the time in terms of your practice?
AD: I studied at the J.J. School of Arts, Bombay and we were all quite influenced by pure abstraction. I was interested in literature and cinema; the idea of the narrative and stories that are woven together through conversations and memories. That is what fascinated me and I began to move away from the Bombay school, by making figurative works. I think I had a difficult time resolving my work between '84 -'87 and only in '87 -'88 did I feel that I am enjoying this whole method of painting human figures.

Q: Were the images for your paintings taken from photographs?
AD: In 1986 I got my first Nikon F2A, initially thought I would also do photography but soon realised it was not easy to achieve a good photographic image. I realised all the pictures I took were like a sketch for my painting. So while travelling, instead of moving with a sketch book and pencil, I would run with my camera. This picture was taken in 1988 in Chorwad, Saurashtra (Gujarat) where my uncle used to live. We were all sitting in a palace hotel on the shore and I took a photograph of my father. Of course the door wasn't there, the canvas wasn't there - it was just him sitting in the armchair with the window behind. I did a lot of drawings and sketches of him until I worked out the tone I wanted for this work. I still consider this one as my favourite from that show.

(In correspondence with the artist, 2011)

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